Our Simplified Collaboration Platform

Posted on January 27, 2014

At Steadyhand, 95% of our daily collaboration is around clients. We use a wealth management platform (creatively named WealthManager) from Temenos for that purpose. It allows us to track all client assets, communication, statements, documents, notes, scheduled calls, etc. in one place. We also use it for simplified workflow and document management.

Outside of client work, our collaboration needs are fairly simple. We work together on presentations and events, blog postings, whitepapers, and some other basic stuff to keep the business running.  Our team are all heavy Outlook users, and email is a key piece of how they collaborate (and how they like to collaborate). Our IT infrastructure is entirely hosted; we don’t have a single server on premises or under our control.

Previous Usage

We were using a hosted collaboration platform that provided all of the standard features: document management, wiki-like pages, threaded discussions, basic task management, etc. While the platform is a good one and keeping pace with other providers in this space, I began to suspect we really weren’t using it to its potential.

When I surveyed the documents in the platform, and asked the team how they were using it, a number of trends became clear:

Clearly the biggest issue we had with the platform was that I had not done a very good job of training users. So, I went back to the users and we discussed how and why they need to collaborate on documents and tasks, and how the collaboration platform would enable this.

As I did this, came to a few conclusions:

New Approach

Without a server, and with a need to share documents in the office and with a remote location, we turned to a file synchronization solution, BitTorrent Sync. (“BTSync”) BTSync allows us to securely synchronize files between multiple locations. Given the size of the document repository we have, each computer has more than enough space to have a complete copy of the fileset.

We classified document sharing in to two types:

We’ve installed BTSync and used a read-only folder for the Public documents, allowing me to push out documents, including the Steadyhand User Guide (see below). We have another folder for the Shared documents.

It’s worth noting that neither of these classes of documents is particularly sensitive - they do not contain any client information.

Replacing the Wiki pages

As the wiki pages were being treated as “read-only” by the rest of the team, I decided to simplify the process and just take control of the wiki notes and put them into a single file controlled by me (dubbed the “Steadyhand User Guide”.  This is appropriate in our situation as many of the notes relate to how to use certain systems or processes, and really shouldn’t just be changed in an ad-hoc manner.

After some research, I decided to use AsciiDoc, a “text document format for writing notes, documentation, articles, books, ebooks, slideshows, web pages, man pages and blogs. AsciiDoc files can be translated to many formats including HTML, PDF, EPUB, man page.” 

I author the User Guide using vim, and then publish to HTML and distribute to the team via the Public folder in BTSync.

Version control is done via a distributed source control system, Mercurial. As we grow, I can train other users on how to update and publish the User Guide.

Training & Usage

Finally, I’ve spent more time training users how to use the new approach. There is still some confusion about when to share or not share documents via BTSync vs. email, but I believe we are making progress.